Jean Brusselmans lived in a modest house in Dilbeek, near Brussels, together with his wife and son. Their secluded home on a hill had a beautiful view of the surrounding area. This landscape is what he could see from his studio window. He painted the row of houses, with the small strips of field and the woods in the distance, over and over again. On the left, there is a large forest, tall and dark. On the right a mosaic of smaller trees and shrubs. Brusselmans painted them in every season, come rain or shine. Somewhat sketchily at first, later more pronounced and structured.
Poverty in Dilbeek
The Brusselmans family lived in great poverty. Jean exhibited his works regularly but they didn’t sell. The artist was forced to paint advertising hoardings to make ends meet. His wife earned a little extra from sewing and embroidery. During the Second World War, the family was unable to pay its electricity bill and their power was cut off. The hardship and cold were too much for Brusselmans’ wife, who died in 1943.
Spring is a fresh painting. It is imbued with a whole range of green shades beneath a blue sky with enchanting clouds. The large, flat surface of an end-wall stands out at the centre, contrasting sharply with its surroundings. Jean Brusselmans applied a whole series of painting techniques here: spreading the colour with a palette knife, roughly pulling or scraping twists in the paint, laying one colour on another, and brushing vigorously. He gave the different elements hard contours and reduced reality to ordered, almost geometric patterns. He did not create space or depth, so much as pile up the elements. All features that typify his work and make it original.
Playing with surfaces
Brusselmans was mainly focused on his immediate surroundings: his living room, his wife, the view of the Brabant landscape from his window and the sea, which he visited often. He carefully planned the form and structure of his landscape paintings. He opted for large planes, clear lines and bright colours in a balanced composition. With no superfluous details. He only depicted what was essential. In this way, he reduced reality to flat, ordered elements.
The landscapes Brusselmans painted in the 1930s are almost abstract compositions. He viewed nature as a mathematical work of art. But no matter how radically he schematized and abstracted his subjects, he never fully evolved into non-figurative art. Brusselmans’ work always retains a clear link with reality. Just like the art of his great example Paul Cézanne.
Brusselmans the individualist
Jean Brusselmans refused to align himself with any specific movement. He wanted to do his own thing and he stuck to that. The result was a highly individual body of work. But his physical distance from the art world – he lived in a small, remote town – and his stubborn artistic attitude stood in the way of a great success. He continued to paint below the radar for his whole life.